Game 74, Mariners at Angels
Taijuan Walker vs. Matt Shoemaker, 7:05pm
Tonight, we’ve got an intra-divisional battle between two righties who rely on a splitter, and the start of a 9 game road trip down the west coast. I’d say that it’s a crucial one, but I think the series that meant the most to the M’s playoff odds have already happened. Nothing’s set in stone, and I’d love to see a miracle run only because more people would be amazed by Edgar Martinez, but the M’s need to go on a long run just to get to the point where going on a run might become meaningful as opposed to cosmetic. The M’s open this homestand in last place in the West thanks to the streaking A’s victory over Texas. The M’s may well catch the Rangers in the second half, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they reel in the Angels, too. But going into tonight’s game, the A’s run differential is nearly 100 runs better than the Mariners’.
That just means we can do what we’re so accustomed to doing, and scan each game for signs of improvement and development. Taijuan Walker’s been a joy to watch for the past month – he’s in the zone more often, and he’s missing more bats despite of it. As we’ve talked about before, he’s using the bottom of the zone more with his fastball, and he seems to have improved his deception a bit, as hitters aren’t sitting on his split like they know it’s coming – through his start in Toronto, batters whiffed on 1/4 of their swings on splitters. Since then, they’re missing on about 40% of such swings. His improved command of it means he can now use it as a putaway pitch to *right*handers, something he didn’t do early on – he either tried to blast fastballs past people, or used his cutter/slider thing, which hasn’t been good.
He’ll face Matt Shoemaker, the great out-of-nowhere story from last year who posted a brilliant K:BB ratio and helped solidify the Angels staff when Garrett Richards went down with an injury. Shoemaker was a minor league journeyman who put up a fascinating statistical profile. He had great control, struck out more batters than average, and gave up home runs at a standard rate. At home, he was dominant – mixing that K:BB ratio with an ultra-low HR rate in part thanks to his home park, and in part thanks to an average GB rate. On the road, things looked shaky – he gave up lots of HRs, and was much more of a fly ball pitcher. This is the tricky thing about rookies, especially out-of-nowhere guys that scouts/prospect guys haven’t been dissecting since their first rookie-league appearance: to what mean do you regress a guy like this to? The league average is a good idea, but what do you do with such marked home/road splits? Is he *actually* a fly-ball pitcher who got a bit lucky at home? Or is he *actually* a poor man’s Iwakuma, who’ll get enough grounders that even a high HR/FB wouldn’t make him useless? This year at least, we’re getting closer to an answer, though not the one Angels fans would’ve wanted.
Shoemaker’s GB% has dropped, and while his HR rate on the road is just about unchanged, he’s giving up more HRs at home now, too. Gone is the odd split in his batted ball profile – he’s now an equal-opportunity fly-baller. Combined with some regression in his HR/FB rate, as expected, and he’s been shockingly bad for a guy with a K:BB ratio of over 4:1. One of the things that made him so effective last year was that his splitter allowed him to strike out lefties at pretty much the same clip as righties – he had fairly small platoon splits. This year, his K:BB ratio has actually improved against righties, but it’s fallen off to lefties, and that’s pushed those splits up. The raw splits don’t look too different, but that’s only because HRs have acted as an equalizer, making righties and lefties look effective. But looking at each component, it looks like lefties have adjusted to Shoemaker. Last season, lefties hit one HR off of his split and hit a combined .152 with a .200 SLG%. This year, lefties *already* have 5 HRs off the split, and are slugging .588. They’re making more contact off of him and punishing the pitches that they make contact with. Shoemaker’s not a bad pitcher, and he now looks nearly as unlucky as he did last year; a lot of that HR/FB luck could regress back to the mean, maybe starting tonight. But while a guy with a great K:BB ratio often seems like a terrible match-up for the M’s, Shoemaker’s someone the M’s lefties can punish. Though Shoemaker has struck out 15 Mariners to just 1 walk in 2 starts in 13 1/3 IP, the M’s have FIVE HRs against him. More of that, M’s.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Smith, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
Tacoma beat Reno in extras last night, getting a walk-off sac fly to win 1-0. Hisashi Iwakuma started and threw 4 IP with 4 Ks. Afterword, he told the TNT’s TJ Cotterill that he wasn’t happy with his mechanics but felt healthy. He’ll probably have another couple of starts to build his pitch count up; he ended yesterday’s game with 68 pitches. Scheduled starter Forrest Snow closed the game out with 4 scoreless innings of his own; he looked quite good, except for a brief bout of wildness. He’s getting more swings-and-misses, though Reno featured a few free-swinging hitters. Today, Jordan Pries starts for the Rainiers as they welcome El Paso to town.
Jackson got blown out by Birmingham, 13-0. Edwin Diaz got hit hard, the relievers got hit hard, the Generals had no extra-base hits… it was brutal. Tonight, Moises Hernandez faces off with Mark Blackmar, a righty who came to the White Sox system from Baltimore’s in a deal for Alejandro de Aza.
Bakersfield lost in extras to Houston affiliate Lancaster 8-6. Tyler O’Neill hit his 15th HR, but the Jethawks hit two solo shots in the 10th to win it. Eddie Campbell starts for the Blaze against former D3 pitcher Austin Chrismon, a right-hander out of Christopher Newport University.
Clinton lost the first game of their 2nd half 4-2, as 2014 first-rounder and Brewers prospect Kodi Medeiros had a solid start, and then reliever David Burkhalter shut the door on the L-Kings. Zack Littell posted another solid start in a losing effort, striking out 8 in 7 IP. Tyler Herb faces Zach Hirsch, a lefty who’s shown good control in the MWL this year.
Everett continued their great start with an 11-4 win in Spokane. 3B Logan Taylor had 4 hits, and SS Drew Jackson had 3. The AquaSox head back home tonight to take on the Boise Hawks and starter Angel Lezama. Laane Ratliff will make his first start.